Twists and Turns at Bonham State Park

Twists and Turns at Bonham State Park

My October visit to Bonham State Park was bittersweet; on the one hand, it rained hard the first day and my hiking boots tore up and my rain-jacket turned out to be only weather resistant and the trails were weird, man.

But on the other hand, I had a nice time with a great group of campers from a local Meetup. My camping meals are usually snacky and–well, let’s say utilitarian (I eat a lot of surplus MREs)–but on this trip I was blessed with an abundance of real, hot food from many generous people, along with good conversation and a cheery atmosphere. It really helped, as the rest of my Bonham experience was kind of a wet mess.

I went for a hike soon after setting up camp; it was raining and my boots tore up, as mentioned, and filled with water. The trail–the Gnarly Root trail, –was covered, in most places, with the stickiest grey mud I’ve ever encountered. It packed into the tread of my shoes like cement; it formed a crust all around my boots that quickly built up, heavier and heavier (I’m pretty sure this is what finally ripped off the soles.) Scraping the mud off was futile–the only time I saw it easily release was when I was walking and great big gobs of the stuff would detach from my boot and coat the back of my legs.

None of the signs I saw referenced the Gnarly Root trail by name–they all said things like “M-3” and “A-5” and had little bicycle symbols. My trail map did not use these symbols, although it didn’t become a problem till the next day when I went for a hike on the Bois d’Arc trail.

It had stopped raining by then, although I made the mistake of walking through a patch of wet grass and instantly resoaking the insides of my boots. I then proceeded to get lost–really lost!–on the bizarre hairball of trails that make up the Bois d’Arc. The M-whatever signs were no help, and there were no other markers. Just when I think I’d pieced together the only possible spot I could be based on the map and nearny landmarks, the trail would unexpectedly fork. There are also only two CCC points of interest marked on the trail map in that area, but I found at least five different things that they might have been referring to.

So I was lost, but not scary lost. The entire Bois d’Arc trail is only 2.7 miles, and maybe half of that is the tangled-up bit where I got stuck. I eventually got out by following voices and found a couple of other hikers by the road who said they had also gotten turned around. Other than being completely bewildering it was a fine trail, with only a few steep parts and a lot of lovely lush, green moss in the trees. If my feet had been dry I would have enjoyed getting a little lost out there.

The Lake Loop and Armadillo trails were much more straightforward; the former was flat with cute little bridges here and there and led to a few nice spots by the shore, and the latter was gently sloped and often covered with crushed bricks.

Although I was cold and wet for most of it, my trip to Bonham State Park definitely had some high points. I saw several spiderwebs slung across the trails, all with the same kind of orb-weaver hanging on them, and I was eventually able to take a really decent photo of one–my favorite shot of the trip. In terms of composition I feel like my photography took a step forward at Bonham.

I also enjoyed the truly delicious labors of a Dutch oven presentation, held by some of the park rangers outside in the main day use area. Bonham seems like a really great park for day users, with its small, tidy lake and an abundance of covered picnic tables.

I’d like to return to Bonham State Park, with better gear or at least better weather. The facilities were clean, the park rangers were great and I choose to view the trails–now that I’m not standing out in the middle of them in wet socks–as a fun challenge. I give Bonham 3 out of 5 stars, and will bump up the rating if somebody will go out there and set out a couple of usable trail signs for us directionally-challenged hikers. No regrets! The Texas State Park system, once again, provided me a weekend of healthy physical activity, great memories and interesting photo opportunities.

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Everything’s Heavy at Longhorn Cavern

Everything’s Heavy at Longhorn Cavern

The last stop in my June 2019 four-state-parks-and-a-state-natural-area trip was Longhorn Cavern. There’s no camping at this park, but the enormous Inks Lake is just up the road.

It was starting to rain as I arrived. I signed up for a cave tour and then hung around a bit outside and explored some of the trails–they’re all easy and very short (the longest is just over half a mile). It was nice to be able to walk around in the woods while waiting for the tour to start, rather than just hanging out at the gift shop, and I enjoyed poking around some of the historic CCC structures and trying to take their photos in the increasingly wet weather.

I returned to the visitor center and waited on the cozy back porch with my fellow tourists for our guide to arrive; the rain picked up and started coming down in earnest. The nice thing about a cave, of course, is that it’s all underground–I slipped and slid a few times just outside the entrance, but once inside the bad weather was confined to a few holes in the ceiling.

Longhorn Cavern is a treasure–big and comfortable and with excellent lighting design that really shows off all those weird, alien-landscape cave structures. In some places the walls looked rough and crystal-like, in other places creamy and smooth. The tour guide had a lot of great information, both geological and historical–for instance, one of the cavernous rooms was used as a dance hall and concert venue in the ’20s, and food and other supplies were lowered through openings in the top. The tour was about a mile long, every ambling twist and turn bringing another interesting texture or ancient structure into view.

There wasn’t much wildlife, just the occasional hibernating bat. The guide informed us that these were tricolored bats (named so, I half-remember, because they were brown, dark brown and brownish gray.)

I have one little regret: in order to keep up with the tour and out of everyone else’s way I didn’t use my tripod for any photos and just cranked the ISO up as high as it could go. It was a great low-light photography learning experience, but I do hope one day to photograph a cave at leisure. It was a little heartbreaking to be literally surrounded by stunning, abstract patterns of light and shadow and texture and not being able to take a few thousand slow and careful photos.

There were a couple of kids on our tour and they seemed to enjoy the tour as much as me, albeit in a more expressive way. Most of the parts of the cave you explore are open and airy; the floor is usually paved with cement. There was a part where all the adults had to hunch over for a little bit.

Our tour guide mentioned the weekly Wild Cave Tour, which is where you pay to crawl through the mud and squeeze through the tiny spaces of the unfinished parts of the cavern. I later learned that one of my friends had gone through this. According to her, “We wore hard hats and crawled around in some spaces. Even went through an underground lake. We had to crawl through it so you got totally soaked.”

She added, “Definitely not the average cave tour. Totally worth the time.”

Expect to spend about an hour and a half on the regular tour; you can bring a picnic lunch or get food at the visitor center. I arrived early and booked the first tour of the day and there was no line, however their website recommends you book your tour ahead of time. I’m sure they get a lot of Inks Lake traffic.

Longhorn Cavern is a five out of five, and any trip to Inks Lake should include this tour.

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